Thailand’s original beach resort is no palm-fringed castaway island and arguably it is all the better for it. Instead it is a delightful mix of city and sea with a cosmopolitan ambience, lively markets, tasty street eats, long wide beaches and fully functional city services (meaning no septic streams bisect the beach like those other places).
Hua Hin traces its aristocratic roots to the 1920s when Rama VI (King Vajiravudh) and Rama VII (King Prajadhipok) built summer residences here to escape Bangkok’s stifling climate. The most famous of the two is Phra Ratchawang Klai Kangwon (Far from Worries Palace), 3km north of town and which is still a royal residence today and so poetically named that Thais often invoke it as a city slogan. Rama VII’s endorsement of Hua Hin and the construction of the southern railway made the town the place to be for Thai nobility who built their own summer residences beside the sea.
In the 1980s the luxury-hotel group Sofitel renovated the town’s grand dame hotel that in turn sparked overseas tourism. Today all the international hotel chains have properties in Hua Hin, and a growing number of wealthy expats retire to the nearby housing estates and condominiums. Middle-class and high-society Thais from Bangkok swoop into town on weekends, making parts of the city look a lot like upper Sukhumvit.
There’s a lot of money swirling around, which unnecessarily scares off baht-minded backpackers. Because this is a bustling Thai town, seafood is plentiful and affordable, there’s cheap public transport for beach hopping and it takes a lot less time and effort (and money) to get here from Bangkok than to the southern islands. So quit wasting your time everywhere else and hurry up to Hua Hin beach.